Watch as ‘hijacked’ Ryanair flight is boarded by officials in Minsk to arrest journalist critic of Belarus president
Video footage has emerged from inside the Ryanair plane ‘hijacked’ on its way to Lithuania moments after it was forced to land in Minsk.
It shows the plane being boarded by unknown figures, leading up to the arrest of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, who was taken away after the rest of the passengers were unloaded and had their luggage searched on the tarmac.
EU leaders are due to discuss their response to what the union’s executive called a ‘hijacking’ and the US state department said was ‘a shocking act’.
Belarus scrambled a fighter jet to force the plane to land on ‘suspicion’ of a bomb threat.
The plane, which was flying from Athens was due to land in Vilnius, but was still in Belarusian airspace when it was told to divert to the capital.
Witnesses on board said the 26-year-old journalist, a prominent critic of President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, was ‘super-scared’ and told fellow passengers he would face the death penalty - Belarus is the only European country that still executes prisoners.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said it was a ‘state-sponsored hijacking’ and claimed agents from Russia’s KGB were also on board the flight.
“I think it’s very frightening for the crew, for the passengers who were held under armed guard, had their bags searched,” he told Newstalk.
“It was clear it appears that the intent of the Russian authorities was to remove a journalist and his travelling companion.
“We believe there was also some KGB agents offloaded from the aircraft as well.”
Franak Viacorka, a friend and associate of Mr Protasevich, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the journalist ‘already felt something bad’ in Athens airport because he had seen someone following him.
Another passenger told Reuters news agency that Mr Protasevich had opened an overhead locker after they were told of the diversion, pulled out a laptop and a phone and gave them to a female companion.
The woman, named as Mr Protasevich’s girlfriend, Russian Sofia Sapega, was also arrested.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said further sanctions are being considered against the Lukashenko administration and Belarus’s ambassador in London had been summoned for a dressing down.
Mr Raab told MPs there were more than 100 passengers on the flight.
“We are urgently seeking full details of precisely what took place in relation to Flight FR4978 but the scenario as reported is a shocking assault on civil aviation and an assault on international law,” he said.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he has instructed the Civil Aviation Authority to request airlines avoid Belarusian airspace ‘in order to keep passengers safe’.
He also suspended the operating permit for Belavia, the country’s state-owned airline.
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